Shrine Visitations

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We swung by the shrine while a wedding ceremony was in progression. The bride, groom, and attendants looked stunning!

Recently a friend and I stopped by Meiji Jingu on our way to Harajuku Street. Since the shrine is in close proximity to Harajuku station, we wanted to visit before going shopping. Initially our plan had been to spend a half an hour exploring the shrine grounds, but we’ve made a habit out of stretching the definition of “short plans” and spent a majority of the afternoon there. On the way to the main building, we constantly found ourselves amazed at not just the nature that swaddled the area, but the bridges and buildings that were spread out around us, too. Although we weren’t aware at the time, we had been walking in a forest that spanned 700,000 square meters and featured over 100,000 trees that, when first planted, were planted by hand to honor the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

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The front of the ema featured this lovely image!

After washing our hands and rinsing our mouths at the Temizuya, we entered the main shrine building, which bustled with activity. This area felt far less congested than Shibuya’s scramble crossing—it was a roomy walk for visitors and locals alike. Shrine assistants threaded through patches of crowds to get to their stalls, which sold a variety of good-luck charms and fortunes. My friend and I decided to purchase ¥500 ema, the wooden plaques used for prayer requests. While in the middle of writing my prayer, I thought back to my prior spring semester when I was enrolled in the search for meaning course at my home college. This course taught vernacular religious practices with a focus on Western traditions. Several times throughout the semester our class took field trips and one of the first trips was to the Saint John Neumann Shrine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our professor, as well as one of the parish priests, discussed the history of the shrine and some of the activities that parishioners participated in.

Western and Eastern cultures tend to contrast each other and I found myself trying to recall the experience at Saint John Neumann’s so that I could register these differences for myself. First and foremost, the Catholic church and the Shinto shrine answer the calls of two different religions. Shintoism places an emphasis on nature whereas Catholicism focuses more on religious figures. I felt that the décor of both shrines reflected their respective religions in this manner. Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine, overflowed with naturalistic elements, from the plant-life that isolated it from the rest of Harajuku to the wood-based shrine houses. The Saint John Neumann Shrine, on the other hand, was stunning in the sense that there were a variety of different artworks and items.

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Snapped a picture of Ashlee Mantione as she wrote down her prayer at the shrine.

What bound these two experiences together weren’t the practices, and certainly not the interior and exterior designs, but the people visiting. You don’t need to identify with any religion to offer loved ones positive thoughts or prayers. Nor do you have to be a committed parishioner to appreciate the beauty at the Meiji Shrine or Saint John Nuemann’s. Realizing this made my afternoon at the Meiji Shrine so much more enjoyable and I can hardly wait to visit more shrines over the course of the semester.

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